Tisbury debates funds for Kuehn’s Way housing, and approves it

One evening didn’t get the annual job done; more to do in second evening session.

Tisbury voters review the warrant in preparation of casting their votes at Tuesday's town meeting. — Stacey Rupolo

Kuehn’s Way affordable housing project was in the spotlight at the first night of Tisbury town meeting Monday. Voters approved $1.1 million in Community Preservation Act projects, including $570,000 for Kuehn’s Way, a 20-unit, $6.3 million affordable housing project proposed by the Island Housing Trust (IHT) and sited on 4.5 acres off State Road near Deer Hill Road in Tisbury. An amendment also approved requires all permits to be obtained before funds are dispersed.

The 228 voters who filed into the Tisbury School gymnasium with wet jackets and squeaky boots on Tuesday evening finished only about one-third of the town’s business. Debate was split between the need for Island housing, the detriment the proposed Kuehn’s Way project could be to abutters, and the role of Community Preservation Act funding.

“What is the question here? Do we question the integrity of Dukes County Regional Housing Authority?” Katherine Kavanaugh, a resident of Vineyard Haven, asked voters. “Are we questioning the integrity of the CPA [community preservation act] funds? It’s boggling my mind that this is even a conversation that we’re having.” Her comments triggered applause. 

Robert Dias, an abutter to the project, urged voters not to approve the expenditure of CPA funds for Kuehn’s Way, citing the project’s density, its location in the watershed, and its potential to harm neighboring wells. “Why should the town allocate nearly a half a million dollars, with plans to give another $400,000 over two years, for a project that may not even be feasible and does not have permits yet?” Mr. Dias asked.

His motion to table the spending won a majority, 89-77, but failed to get the required two-thirds majority.

Anthony Peak asked whether other towns have been asked to contribute to the affordable housing project, calling it a project with “Island-wide implications.”

Philippe Jordi, IHT executive director, said last year IHT received more than $300,000 in CPA funds, with an additional $384,000 this year.

Trip Barnes, a Tisbury member of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and on the Tisbury Community Preservation Act town committee, called the $6 million price tag for 20 units a high one for affordable housing. “I just hope it doesn’t set a precedent for the next 40 beds,” Mr. Barnes said.

There was little debate over other articles, and voters unanimously approved borrowing $400,000 to fund construction projects, with reimbursement from Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), for the Complete Streets Prioritization Plan.

Ben Robinson, a member of the planning board, said the town had identified 117 projects to improve pedestrian and cyclist access along town streets, primarily in the downtown area.

Following action by voters in other Island towns, Tisbury voters approved $16,311 for the Healthy Aging Task Force’s First Stop MV program. Selectman Larry Gomez, though he applauded nonprofit work on the Island, urged nonprofits to rely more on donations and fundraising and less on tax dollars.

A special town meeting preceded the annual meeting, lasting about an hour. A majority of voters approved connecting the new Martha’s Vineyard Museum to the town sewer line. The museum requested an allowance of 2,400 gallons per day, and selectmen chairman Melinda Loberg, who called herself the “Wastewater Queen” for the evening, described it as a “conservative” request.

Voters did not approve a request from the planning board to hire a department secretary, where town leaders identified a need for assistance in many town departments. Jeff Kristal, a member of the Tisbury finance advisory committee, urged residents to reject the article, estimating it would cost the town several million dollars over the course of 20 years. He said FinCom worked with the town accountant and had already budgeted an extra 14 hours a week for one year to assist the planning board.

A majority of voters approved a nonbinding article that declared the license of Island Adventure Rentals, a moped rental business on Beach Road, null and void. The town selectmen had already approved the rental company’s business license renewal last week, and town counsel David Doneski told voters that their vote would have no effect except to express “sentiment.”

Selectmen decided last week to table Article 14 on the special town meeting warrant, which asked the town to add a new bylaw for the regulation of rental housing in Vineyard Haven. Voters unanimously agreed to take no action.

The new regulation was to be an enhancement to public health and safety, by requiring property owners to register with the town and obtain a rental certificate from Tisbury. Mr. Peak wanted to know why the article was withdrawn.

“This article has not been vetted enough in the public, so we wanted to postpone this and have some hearings in the future,” Mr. Gomez said.

Ten annual town meeting warrant articles were decided during Tuesday’s meeting, and 26 more were left for voters when they reconvened in town meeting part two, Wednesday at 7 pm in the school gymnasium.

Updated April 26 at 2:15 pm to reflect the full business of Tuesday night’s town meeting.